Rocked by data leaks, Scotland in Union vows to fight on

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It has been a difficult few weeks for Scotland in Union (SIU), the non-party organisation set up in 2015 to oppose a second referendum on Scottish independence and offer a “positive view” of the UK.

Last month it suffered a damaging data breach when a detailed list of donors and their contact details was leaked to several pro-independence blogs. The incident was reported to police and is subject to an on-going investigation.

While the leaked data remains subject to strict confidentiality laws, meaning newspapers are restricted in what can be reported, it was swiftly shared across social media. One commentator described the list as containing “so many members of the British aristocracy that for a moment you find yourself wondering if this isn’t the list for Kate Middleton’s latest baby shower”.

Further bad news followed when it was reported the Electoral Commission was investigating whether SIU had possibly breached donor roles by failing to declare donations during the run-up to the last Westminster and Holyrood elections. SIU said it was “confident” its donations were in accordance with guidelines.

Then there was the matter of two former SIU staffers quitting the organisation to launch their own “grassroots” pro-Union campaign, UK Unity.

Despite these setbacks, SIU insists it still has an important role to play in talking up the benefits of the UK to Scots.

Chief executive Pamela Nash, a former Labour MP, told The Scotsman that the campaign’s ambition was to “make ourselves obsolete” - by reaching a point when the result of the 2014 referendum was respected and no further vote on independence was on the horizon.

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The SNP was chastened in June last year when it lost 21 MPs at the snap election, with the finger of blame being pointed at the prospect of IndyRef2 putting off floating voters. But less than a year on and the issue remains live. The long-awaited report from the SNP’s Growth Commission is expected to be published in the coming months, with Nationalists hoping it will provide a shot in the arm to the independence movement.

Nicola Sturgeon also called this week for a “Scottish assertiveness” in the year ahead as she insisted the prospect of independence remains an option to avoid the “horror” of a hard Brexit.

All of which puts fire in the belly of SIU.

“Our ambition as a campaign is to make ourselves obsolete – when the result of the 2014 referendum is widely accepted and the issue of Scottish independence is once again a minor issue then there will no longer be a need for a campaign like ours,” said Nash, who replaced Graeme Pearson as chief executive in August.

“It was less than a year ago the First Minister called for the right to hold a second referendum and it was only the loss of 21 seats in the General Election last summer that forced it on to the backburner.

“There were some encouraging signs at the end of last year that the SNP leadership was prepared to move on. As MP Kirsty Blackman said herself, most people don’t give two hoots about independence.

“Now it’s a new year but the same old story. We are already hearing suggestions the publication of Andrew Wilson’s Growth Commission report will kick-start a new drive to force a second referendum. It seems the Scottish Government has a one-track mind.

“In recent weeks, we have been under renewed attack from Nationalists claiming the campaign against independence is all about aristocrats and landowners. But the real obstacle to independence is the two million Scots who voted No and the majority of ordinary people who make it clear in poll after poll they do not want a rerun of 2014.

“We know there are political parties and other campaigns which share our aims and we are happy to work with them where we can.

“If the SNP is serious about trying to bring about a second referendum this year, we stand ready to do everything we can to oppose. We will not be intimidated from speaking up for the majority of Scots who do not want to be independent from the UK.”

SIU claims it now has around 25,000 registered supporters since it launched in 2015. While many will no doubt be concerned over recent data breaches, SIU is gambling it will retain the faith of the majority by campaigning with renewed vigour - if, or when, the campaign for a second referendum really begins to intensify.